Life lessons in France
Lehigh's Taylor Mygatt experiences internship to the fullest
The daily schedule for student-athletes is generally very planned. Class, practice, homework and repeat.
Summer is one time when student-athletes can choose what to do, where to go and opportunities to pursue.
Lehigh field hockey rising junior and bioengineering major Taylor Mygatt turned this summer into a memorable academic, professional and playing experience.
The opportunity was a six-week internship with INSA (Institut National des Sciences Appliquées) which ran May 20 to July 5. The internship revolved around the enhancement of implant devices by finding data on the corrosion of titanium alloys to lengthen implant lifetime and HAP deposition to allow for better bone to implant adhesion.
In layman's terms, Mygatt read articles and completed experiments which could be used to improve hip, knee and other variations of prosthetics.
"By the end of the trip, my final report was 38 pages," she said.
The internship ran full time -- 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- from Monday through Friday. Mygatt had a familiar face within a stone's throw of her in France as Lehigh rising senior track athlete Ingrid Simon also completed an engineering research internship at INSA.
"My supervisor, Professor Denier, was with me at all times to teach me new concepts, help me complete experiments and show me how and why I would use different machines," Mygatt said. "Luckily, his English was much better than most of the professors at INSA. I could not have done this without him. He was an excellent professor and I hope to keep in touch with him in the future."
Field hockey is an important part of Mygatt's life, so she couldn't last seven weeks without playing. She knew of the sport's popularity in Europe and decided to look for leagues in the area.
The persistent searching paid off.
"I found a source online called the field hockey forum where players from around the world can contact each other," Mygatt said. "I found a post about a league in Strasbourg and messaged this man [David], who gave me the name and email of the coach and told me to get in contact with him. He said they would love to have me.
"A week before leaving, I messaged Coach Antoine who told me a practice time and place. I was thrilled. My host parents drove me to the field a day before and showed me how to use the tram system."
The playing experience was extremely unique and a learning experience in various ways.
"The next day, I took a 45-minute tram ride to practice. I was so nervous," Mygatt said. "Being a little late, I jogged over to the field and was pleasantly surprised by a team of welcoming arms. This team was full of men ranging mostly from their 20s to 40s. There were also two girls on their team around my age."
Most of the team spoke English pretty well while some struggled. Regardless of language, there was a common "language" amongst the group -- field hockey. Despite some cultural differences, it was the same game that Mygatt plays at Lehigh.
"I had no problems figuring out the drills," she said. "Actually, I had done most of the drills in previous practices back in the states. One big difference I found was area of focus in practice. This French team did not concentrate on stick skills; the drills were all based on passing and shooting. Almost everyone could chip the ball into the top corners of the goal. I was very impressed."
The connection between Mygatt and her teammates was immediate.
"At the end of practice, they told me I played really well and invited me back to practice on Thursday," Mygatt said. "They also told me that they wouldn't speak English anymore and I had to learn French. I laughed and felt so relieved to have met people similar to home."
After Mygatt practiced with the team every Tuesday and Thursday for four weeks, she was invited to play in games. She was asked to play in a tournament in Luxembourg, along with matches on Sunday.
"Unfortunately, I had planned trips during one Sunday match and had to leave for the states before Luxembourg, but I still had one Sunday to play in a match against one of the best German teams in the league," Mygatt said. "I was so thrilled to have this opportunity knowing Germany is ranked third in the world for men's hockey."
Mygatt entered the game at center forward and right mid.
"At first, I was petrified. Here I was playing against these huge men that were much faster and stronger than anyone I had ever played against," she said. "I had never played against boys before, besides my club coaches. My friends Alessio and Julie told me to stop worrying and to play my own game.
"Soon, I was passing and receiving well and I even created a couple fouls, one turning into an offensive corner. By the end of the game, I was amazed. I could not believe I was able to play against a German team. It was one crazy experience I will never forget."
For all the on-field learning and on-field moments, there were just as many memories made off the field.
"After the game, everyone sat on the field and talked in French," she said. "Every time they laughed, I would laugh, too. One of my teammates was surprised; he asked me if I understood what they were saying. I told him I just pretend. He laughed.
"It didn't matter what language we spoke. These people were like my new family and I could understand every move they made on the field. A sport can connect you to people all across the world."
Mygatt developed friendships that will last a lifetime.
"On my last day of practice, I was so sad to leave," she said. "I had multiple offers to stay at their homes if I were to visit again. They said that I was always welcome.
"I'm thankful to have had this opportunity to meet such amazing people -- from my teammates to my host family, my professors and other students, who I can now call some of my closest friends. I cannot wait to travel again. This has opened my eyes to such a different world."
The actual playing experience was beneficial and should help in Mygatt's final two years at Lehigh. Taylor was one of just three Mountain Hawks to start all 18 games last season, scoring her first career goal against Colgate while serving as a solidifying force in the midfield.
"I definitely learned a different perspective on the game," Mygatt said. "We practiced a lot of chipping [both forward and reverse], tipping and shooting off your right foot. I was always more of a defensive player, but my new offensive confidence can really help me this season.
"I also noticed that I need to work on a quicker release. Most importantly, I learned that chemistry is key. I am looking forward to meeting the incoming freshmen and bonding with my team."
The overall experience -- from the internship to the cultural opportunities and playing field hockey was something she will never forget.
When accepting the internship in France, Mygatt didn't know what she was getting into, but as she said, "It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
"The research internship was the first time I have ever used my knowledge in the work place. It is so different than taking classes because you're able to apply what you've learned. It takes understanding to a whole new level.
"Strasbourg has taught me that life can be lived simply, nothing should be taken too seriously and that I still have a whole lot to learn about the world."